Saturday, March 22, 2014

DOING DISHES: Tapas Part III of V - Aperitivo Bistro

Sharing. An act of kindness, a way to get along with others and connect. It makes you feel good to give someone a little of what you have, like a bit more room on the road for that cyclist, a buck into the little red pot during the holidays, or a bite of your last cookie.

Well, maybe not my last cookie, but you get the idea.

Foodie Friend and I went to Aperitivo Bistro in downtown Schenectady this week to share laughter, conversation, ideas, and, of course, food. The rules of eating out, and writing about it, are simple: we we get to taste everything that we order, we split the bill, and we behave ourselves as best we can so they don't throw us out. No kicking under the table, no pointing at each other under the table, and no action packed death defying feats during dinner. And that includes trying to finish what we order.

We started with cocktails while we looked over the Small Plates and Antipasti pages of our menu. FF enjoyed a Cider Mojito made with Bacardi Big Apple Rum, apple cider, club soda and fresh mint. Lovely, sweet, cold, served in a tall glass, and minty enough even though the leaves weren't muddled. I enjoyed a glass of Merlot from Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez, California - smooth and lush, soothing on a cold night of more ice and rain as spring approaches. Aperitivo offers 20 or so wines by the glass, mostly from California, running from $8 to $14 each, as well as over 6 pages of wines by the bottle ranging from $25 to $325, again, dominated by California selections, but there were many "old world" choices from Italy, Spain, France, etc. We noted they had only one bottle from upstate NY (Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards) on their list. Hmmmm. 

That's water on the left, FYI
Aperitivo's menu included 10 Small Plates and 10 Antipastis, and the latter included 5 different salads, so there were some fresh options. We asked our server if he had any recommendations and he suggested the 7 Hour Cherry Pepper Pork, which sounded to us like sophisticated nachos, so we decided not to take his suggestion. Instead we ordered four dishes in what they termed "all share service", i.e., they would bring things to the table when they were ready. There were little stacks of extra side plates on all the tables around us. My special powers told me that many diners like to share what this place has to offer. 
The middle dining area - side plates on the table encourage sharing
Our server, perfectly attentive, very friendly, brought us a generous basket of rosemary focaccia along with a sundried tomato pesto to munch on while we waited. The pesto was delightful, brimming with olive oil, just a bit salty, and the bread - surprisingly grainy, not at all chewy - soaked up the flavors nicely, making for a very tasty combination.

The first two dishes to arrive were the Sweet Potato Steak Fries with Salted Caramel, served with a bacon aioli ($6), and a bowl of Fried Brussels Sprouts laced with fresh basil and cherry pepper salsa ($7). The fries were big in every way - a very generous serving, totally delicious - tender but not mushy with a nice crisp coating, with a sweetness that was nicely complimented by the flavorful aioli. The sprouts were perfectly prepared - not burnt or overly oiled, and definitely spicy with vinegar and heat. We asked our server to hold off a bit on the next two dishes - we were quite overwhelmed by what we had, but in a good way.

Next to arrive was the BBQ Short Ribs ($15), served with mac n' cheese, and an order of Calamari ($11) topped with baby arugula and a sweet chili glaze (which I asked for served on the side). The beef was tender, maybe a bit burned to my taste (and just because I'm the Goddess of Fire doesn't mean I'm partial to charring). We only got one rib, however, on top of a generous and complex mac n' cheese that was also topped with these large, crunchy croutons. We liked it all but we just didn't feel that the ribs and the mac dish went together very well. They were both stand alone delicious. And please note we ordered RIBS (plural). What we got was mostly pasta. Anyway, the calamari was nicely prepared, salty for sure; combined in bites with the glaze and salad greens it was really delightful. We kept taking more tastes of everything because everything was so good, but there was no way we could finish what we had. In this case, food won, but of course Zena, Goddess of Fire, let it win.

I've enjoyed many excellent tapas restaurants in the U.S., including The 9th Door in Denver, Emilio's Tapas in Chicago, and Cafe Madrid in Dallas. Memories of a dish with a couple of nice pieces of cheese, some olives, olive oil, and bread; another dish with a fried thing and always a few little olives; a bowl of simple beans in cream; several skewered mushroom stuffed with little shrimp, a couple of bites of tender chicken in a spicy tomato sauce. Simple, three/four/five bites, a snack, usually enough to share, and you might order a number of dishes over the course of an evening, one at a time, to make a light meal. There was nothing small about the small plates at Aperitivo - each one was big, bold, flavorful, spicy, greasy, and lovely to behold, but everything was rich, heady and perhaps a bit overindulgent. FF thought the chef had a childhood issue with cherry peppers, but we didn't find any of it too spicy.

The dining rooms are lovely - chic, spartan, nicely lit. It wasn't a busy night - with their proximity to Proctor's (practically next door) you might want to check their schedule before you go if you mind crowds or don't have a reservation. Or wait until after the show starts.

Tapas for two was $63.70 for two drinks, two small plates and two antipasti, plus tip. If you go, go hungry, and plan to share. It was really a wonderful meal.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

(I gotta give her credit, FF still had room for those puffy mints at the front door on our way out.)

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